Poll Shows Support for Tax Increase

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

A large majority of Northern Virginia residents want the state to spend more money to fix the region's roads and rails, and more than three-quarters say they wanted the opportunity to raise local taxes to do it, a new Washington Post poll shows.

Overall, the survey finds deep resentment among the region's voters toward their government in Richmond, particularly the General Assembly. Only 9 percent of likely Northern Virginia voters polled said they were "very satisfied" that the government is working for the best interests of their part of the commonwealth. Forty-eight percent of those voters said they were dissatisfied, compared with 37 percent in other parts of the state.

That result suggests that General Assembly members in Richmond are taking the brunt of the blame for the stalemate over transportation funding that consumed lawmakers for much of the year. In the poll, 55 percent of the region's likely voters blamed lawmakers, especially Republicans, for the failed special session last month. Only 11 percent blamed Kaine.

Asked for their assessment of the job General Assembly members are doing, just 42 percent of Northern Virginians gave a positive response, compared with 56 percent in other parts of the state.

The results highlight a truth about the Washington suburbs: There is desperation for a traffic fix and frustration with a state government that has not been able to deliver one.

"Every day it gets worse," said Elias Ullah, 32, an independent voter and father of two who commutes from Manassas to Alexandria. "I'd like to pay more taxes. The time you're wasting [in traffic] is more valuable than the tax money you would pay."

Northern Virginia has been struggling for years with highways that become congested daily, a Metro system that doesn't reach the largest population or work centers and aging roads and bridges that need repair. Officials and business leaders have put the price tag for fixing those problems in the tens of billions of dollars.

Four years ago, voters in Northern Virginia rejected a regional sales tax increase that would have raised $5 billion over a decade. Now, the poll suggests that people in the region might think differently if given a second chance.

Seventy-six percent of likely Northern Virginia voters said they want the opportunity to vote again on a local tax increase. And about half of those voters said they would support a general tax increase or higher fees and tolls to pay for new roads, bridges and mass transit.

"I'm not in favor of paying more taxes, but people have to be willing to raise their taxes to pay for public needs," said Karen Rosenbaum, 68, of Arlington.

Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), who voted against a package of tax increases during the special session, said Northern Virginia commuters would feel differently if they knew that Republicans in the House had pushed to use the state's surplus for transportation against the wishes of others in the legislature.

"It would have been a step in the right direction," he said of the GOP plan. "When people see there is a huge surplus, their answers will be, 'Spend that money first.' "

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